Student body attacked for stance on June 4 book

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 March, 2009, 12:00am

Student publication groups from eight universities have jointly criticised the council of City University's students' union, after it opposed a proposal to distribute books at a public commemoration vigil marking the 20th anniversary of the June 4 incident.

While the council denied trying to suppress free speech, it acknowledged some members had raised questions on whether it should take a political stance as a student body, and whether the distribution would incite readers to create disorder.

The union's editorial board had proposed publishing 26,000 copies of a book that would review the Tiananmen crackdown from a human rights perspective in about 60 pages. It intended to hand out the copies to participants at the annual June 4 vigil in Victoria Park.

The debate started last Tuesday, as the council expressed its opposition, voting nine to one against the plan.

The disapproval from the council - a student body that monitors the union's operation - was non-binding. However, controversy grew after the Independent Media website reported the incident on Saturday.

The student editorial boards of eight local universities, including that of City University, issued a joint statement yesterday saying they were 'shocked by and strongly discontented at' the council's decision.

The council's chairman, Leung Ning, said it supported the publication of the book but that members had reservations about the distribution venue. 'We respect the editorial board's freedom of expression ... No one on the council has opposed the publication.'

Some council members had argued that the use of students' money for a public publication would be contentious and others had suggested distributing the copies elsewhere, Mr Leung said. Yet others had questioned whether the union should express a political stance through the book, he said.

Edmund Tse Ting-hin, editor-in-chief of the editorial board, said it would persist with its plan. 'We insist that we should publish the book and will fight for its distribution in Victoria Park.'

Mr Tse said the board would provide more information to the council and hoped to obtain its support at the next meeting.

Union president Billy Li On-yin said its position to support the vindication of the June 4 student movement was unchanged.

The union launched an e-mail survey of City University students. Among the 340 who responded, 213 said the June 4 incident should be vindicated, 90 said no, while 37 said they had no opinion.

Lee Cheuk-yan, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said he was disappointed by the council's position and the low response to the question in the poll.

'These reflect that many university students have poor knowledge about June 4 or dare not express an opinion on it,' Mr Lee said. 'There is an urgency to step up education and publicity.' He hoped the discussion would draw more attention from young people to the June 4 incident.